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Pills, activity keys to controlling pain

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Ten out of 10 people suffer some kind of physical pain at some point during their lives.

That's why the Deseret Morning News/Intermountain Healthcare Hotline staff wasn't surprised Saturday when they were inundated with roughly 50 phones calls over a two-hour period.

The majority of the calls answered by Dr. Christopher Caldwell, who is board-certified in neuromusculoskeletal medicine and osteopathic manipulative medicine, concerned arthritis — a condition that is best managed through a balance of medication and physical therapy.

"Medication should be used so you can lead a more active life," Caldwell said.

He said anti-inflammatory medications effectively control swelling in the joints and throughout the body — especially Tylenol, which is often overlooked because it is an over-the-counter medication. Caldwell emphasized a patient needs to closely track his or her intake of Tylenol because it is often an ingredient in other anti-inflammatory medications — and it's important not to take too much of it.

"It must be kept under 4,000 milligrams (per day) or (Tylenol) damages the liver," he said.

Medication alone won't alleviate a patient's pains, Caldwell said. Physical rehabilitation is also essential.

"The most important thing is to keep active," he said, "because it slows the process of the degenerative arthritis."

Claudia Campbell, clinical director of the Intermountain Pain Center at Cottonwood Hospital, said complicated medical problems require a balance of treatments and a coordinated cooperation between doctor and patient to minimize the pain suffered. A patient can't just go to the doctor and say, "Fix me," she said.

"One of the things I commonly hear is, 'I'm taking this pill, why isn't it working?' " she said. "It's not as simple as a pill."

Dr. John Storheim, a practitioner at the pain center with Campbell and Caldwell, agreed most conditions require a multi-modular approach that can include medication, physical therapy, psychological therapy or even smoking cessation, which studies have shown can increase an individual's ability to manage pain.

Storheim said thorough pain treatment will not solve all of a person's pain, but it can greatly improve that person's life.

"Pain may not be curable, but there are some treatable aspects that can improve functionality and quality of life," he said.

Managing pain or treating pain isn't always easy, Campbell added, but much can be done to relieve unnecessary suffering.

"There's no reason to let pain rule your life," she said.

The Deseret Morning News and Intermountain Healthcare team up to tackle a different health topic on the hotline the second Saturday of each month.

E-mail: jdana@desnews.com